An Open Letter to State Representative Russ Diamond

Marc Stier |

Dear Representative Diamond,

The other day you publicly shared an article about the possible dangers of the mRNA vaccines against COVID-19. I read it and the underlying scientific article.

While one can raise some quibbles about the scientific competence of computer scientists writing about viruses and vaccines, I actually think it is an excellent example of the kind of hard questioning that is central to the process of scientific inquiry. The article draws on some established and new theories to raise questions about whether the mRNA vaccines could have negative consequences. Without that kind of questioning and the research it generates, it is possible to miss unintended consequences of medical treatments.

(I believe that some people with scientific expertise think that some of the theories put forward in the article are misunderstood or quite wrong. But I don’t have the expertise to make that judgment. My conclusions here presuppose that these parts of the article are not off the wall.)

While the article raises real questions, it’s actually quite modest in its conclusions because, admittedly, it doesn’t provide very much evidence to suggest that the dangers it speculates about are real or the theories it advances will turn out to be true.

So, the article doesn’t really do what you think it does. It doesn’t upend the existing scientific consensus that the vaccine is effective and safe, which by now is backed up by really substantial evidence.

You seem to think that raising good questions about a medical procedure or a public policy means we should not adopt it.

That’s wrong in two ways. First, in medicine and public policy, just as in life in general, we are rarely certain about the answers to difficult questions. We weigh the evidence as best we can, and we make a choice knowing that the choice might turn out to be wrong. All of us do that every day. And when it comes to questions on which there is expert knowledge, most of us rely on people who know more than we do, that is, those who have some expertise. We do that when we buy cars and appliances. We do that when we choose where to go on vacation. We do that when we choose careers. And we do that when we decide on medical treatments. In a world with more and more advanced knowledge, that is simply the rational thing to do. Of course, we do it carefully. We vet experts. We make sure the experts understand our goals, our willingness to take chances. But once we do that, if we have any sense, we usually follow the advice of those experts on technical questions, backed by our own common sense. And sometimes the technical knowledge is lacking so we have to make a tough decision.

One reason freedom is so important to us is that we all have different goals in life, and technical expertise has to be used in ways that fit our goals, our willingness to take risks, and so forth.

So, I very much agree with you that when it comes to medical decisions that affect our own lives, we should be free to make our own choices.

However, the problem with the current pandemic is that our choices affect others and not just ourselves. And that means we need to make public decisions about what all of us should do when it comes to masking, social distancing, closing businesses for a time, and getting a vaccination. Obviously, those public decisions have to consider some individual factors, like people for whom a vaccine might be especially dangerous. But by and large, we all have to follow some common rules.

There is no way to avoid a public choice by leaving it to individuals. Telling people it is ok not to mask up or not get a vaccine is not just defending freedom. It is making a public choice, one that scientific consensus and, at this point, overwhelming evidence suggests has resulted in severe illness and death.

You seem to think that when there is any uncertainty about the effectiveness of a policy, we should not adopt it. So, if you can find one article like this one that raises good questions about vaccines, you conclude we should not encourage, let alone mandate, people to get vaccinated.

But, frankly, that’s an utterly irrational point of view. As I said, there is no certainty in life. We simply have to make choices with the best evidence we have. And one article raising some questions about the mRNA technology doesn’t override all the evidence we have that the vaccines are effective and safe. That people hospitalized with COVID-19 are almost entirely unvaccinated shows us the vaccine is effective. And you know as well as I do that if large numbers of people were dying or suffering severe outbreaks of illness from the vaccine, everyone would know. But they aren’t. Yes, some people die or get sick after getting the vaccine. But not getting the vaccine doesn’t make one immortal or immune to illness. There is NO evidence at this point that people getting vaccinated are MORE LIKELY to die. The one small study in the article you posted shows that people who are immune-compromised are more likely to get an outbreak of herpes. That’s a reason to recommend that immune-compromised people seek additional medical advice before getting vaccinated. It’s not a reason to stop encouraging people to be vaccinated. For most of us, a slightly elevated chance of getting an outbreak of herpes surely doesn’t outweigh a slightly elevated chance of dying.

Your positions on COVID-19 have been thoroughly tainted by your political philosophy, which includes the idea that none of us have a responsibility to protect our fellow citizens. I’m not going to discuss that further here except to say that your view is an utterly extreme one that has never been held by more than a fraction of the human race. It’s utterly antithetical to the views of all the biblical religions and was clearly and plainly rejected by John Locke, whose ideas shaped those of our founders.

Your libertarianism has led to your recommendation of public policies on COVID-19 that are not only extremely dangerous to the public health but fundamentally irrational.

And, sadly, you are encouraging your many followers to be even more irrational by unjustifiably casting doubt on all the research done by well-established scientists working in both the public and private sector and, instead, follow the ideas of right-wing pundits who also allow their political views to taint their reading of scientific evidence.

The result has been hundreds of thousands of unnecessary cases of COVID-19, hundreds of unnecessary deaths—which may become thousands of unnecessary deaths soon—and a resistance to the vaccine that is already leading to efforts to make masks mandatory, which is exactly what you say you want to avoid.


Marc Stier
Director, PA Budget and Policy Center